After Ian Curtis’ handwritten lyrics for Joy Division’s single most iconic song, “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” surfaced in a Joy Division/New Order exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, images of the wrinkled 35-year-old sheet of notebook paper have been making fairly brisk rounds of Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. It’s not hard to understand why. The single was released very shortly after Curtis’ suicide, which transformed the song into an instant self-elegy for both Curtis and the beloved band. The title, in fact, is literally Curtis’ epitaph.
But even if Curtis had decided not to end his life that day in 1980, and Joy Division had continued, doesn’t it seem likely that it would have remained their signature song anyway? It has an intrinsic and enduring melancholy beauty that surely resonates even with listeners who know nothing of the song’s tragic connections, and its lyrics, though highly literate, still touch the universal. From coffeehouses to arena stage, it’s easily Joy Division’s most covered song. Here’s a roundup of several artists trying their hand.
Don Bolles, drummer from the legendary LA punk band The Germs is selling off some choice ephemera over at punkflyer.com. Some of the best things have been sold, but there’s plenty left. Seventy-five bucks isn’t a terrible price for an original Black Flag flyer, right?
These lineups are enough to make my head spin: Black Flag/Bangles/Redd Kross on the same bill? Butthole Surfers/Descendents/Big Boys? Shiiiit.
Plus, Bolles says that he’ll be “adding more flyers on a daily basis,” so by all means, check the listing again and see what’s popped up since your last visit.
For the longest time my impression of Will Rogers was that he was just a Hollywood cowboy, but the actor and vaudevillian was also a cutting political satirist, arguably in the league of Mark Twain. He was a staunchly liberal populist—anti-war, anti-big business, anti-poverty, and he abhorred the two-party system. Lines like “a fool and his money are soon elected,” and “I belong to no organized party, I’m a Democrat,” gave him an air of relatable cynicism—think of a Jon Stewart with more middle American appeal. Rogers’ humor also laid the groundwork for Stephen Colbert’s cartoonish right-wing ideologue shtick. He even ran a mock presidential campaign in 1928, over 80 years before Colbert’s, on the fictional Anti-Bunk Party ticket.
His healthy habit of self-deprecation usually kept him in the good graces of the folks he mocked, but it’s hard to believe the speech below, from either 1923 or 1924, didn’t piss off a few oligarchs. After making some bad investments in an attempt to produce his own films, Rogers took on a bunch of corporate speaking gigs to pay off his debts—he was considered the most successful “after-dinner speakers” of his time. The performance you hear is actually the studio recording of a talk he gave live, most likely to a conference for the American Bankers Association in 1922.
It’s not likely that Rogers felt conflicted mocking capitalists and taking their money, but he also made no bones about the moral righteousness of paid funny-men, saying in 1923, “banking and after-dinner speaking are two of the most non-essential industries we have in this country. I am ready to reform if they are.”
The transcript is below, but it’s really worth listening to for Rogers’ comic timing and oratory bravado
Loan sharks and interest hounds: I have addressed every form of organized graft in the United States, excepting Congress. So it’s naturally a pleasure to me to appear before the biggest. You are without a doubt the most disgustingly rich audience I’ve ever talked to, with the possible exception of the Bootleggers’ Union Local No. 1, combined with the enforcement officers.
Now I understand you hold this convention every year to announce what the annual gyp will be. I have often wondered where the depositors hold their convention. I had an account in a bank once and the banker asked me to withdraw it. Said I used up more red ink than the account was worth.
I see where your wives come with you. You notice I say “come” not “was brought.” I see where your convention was opened with a prayer. You had to send outside your ranks to get somebody who knew how to pray. You should have had one creditor there. He’d have shown you how to pray. I noticed in the prayer the clergymen announced to the almighty that the bankers were here. Well, it wasn’t exactly an announcement. It was more in the nature of a warning. He didn’t tell the devil, he figured he knew where you all were all the time anyhow.
I see by your speeches that you are very optimistic of the business conditions of the coming year. Boy, I don’t blame you. If I had your dough, I’d be optimistic too.
Will you please tell me what you all do with the vice-presidents the bank has? I guess that’s to get anybody more discouraged before you can see the main guy. The United States is the biggest business institution in the world. They only got one vice-president. Nobody’s ever found anything for him to do!
I’ve met most of you as I come out of the stage door of the Follies every night. I want to tell you, any of you that are capitalized at under a million dollars needn’t hang around there! Our girls may not know their Latin and Greek, but they certainly know their Dun and Bradstreet.
You have a wonderful organization. I understand you have 10,000 here, and with what you have in various federal prisons, your membership is around 30,000.
So goodbye, paupers! You are the finest bunch of Shylocks that ever foreclosed a mortgage on a widow’s home.
Depictions of Russia in American propaganda had some wild vacillation before the Cold War. The first Red Scare followed the Russian Revolution, and anti-communist sentiment really found purchase around 1919. Leftists in the US (many of them immigrants) became a force to be reckoned with, and bitter labor conflicts (plus some radical terrorism) seemed to suggest a Bolshevik revolution was imminent in the Americas. There’s the period however, during World War II, before Truman decided to wave his nuclear dick at Stalin, when Russians were still our Nazi-fighting Allies, and 1944’s Merrie Melodies production “Russian Rhapsody” is a fascinating artifact of that ambivalence America had towards the Soviets.
Of course, the cartoon doesn’t quite portray Russians as “dignified.” Rather than some cartoon-friendly version of Red Army soldiers fighting Nazis in the snow, they’re literal “gremlins”—tiny things that are only really capable of sabotaging a plane. (The title was originally “Gremlins from the Kremlin,” but Disney was developing an animated version of Roald Dahl’s The Gremlins at the time and Roy Disney pressured Warner Brothers to change the name.) Regardless, the gremlins are clearly the good guys, whipping out a mask of Stalin to frighten Der Führer.
In addition to being a really beautiful (and profoundly weird) piece of animation, “Russian Rhapsody” has some great dog whistles. The cartoon starts out with Hitler delivering a speech that’s a direct reference to a scene from Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will. As an inside joke, some of the gibberish German Hitler spouts is actually the names of animators and studio staff. The gremlin faces are actually based on caricatures of Warner Brothers legends like Chuck Jones, Robert Clampett, Friz Freleng, and Leon Schlesinger. The berserk musical score was provided by the great cartoon composer Carl Stalling.
Ohio’s semilegendary art-punk band Death of Samantha surely enjoyed one of the greatest debut gigs in history. In the early 1980s, teenaged clarinetist/guitarist/singer John Petkovic was sporadically employed at a family-style steakhouse called The Ground Round in the cultural dead zone of Parma, Ohio—then and still the New Jersey to Cleveland’s Lower Manhattan. His boss was a wiseass, always snarking at John about when his young, incompetent, only-just-barely-extant band was going to play at the restaurant. When that manager went on vacation, the assistant manager, who had overheard those exchanges and was apparently unable to parse sarcasm, actually booked the band. Per Petkovic, from a recent in-person interview that was totally fun to transcribe because he was munching on goddamn popcorn the whole night:
We didn’t have any songs, we didn’t have a name, but the assistant manager said there was an opening on wing night. So we brought down our amps and a P.A., and it was insane, whose band would do this to play the Ground Round? And at first, we thought people would actually be into it. So we needed a name, for the marquee, where it would usually say “BURGER NIGHT $4.99,” and [drummer] Steve-O mentioned “Death of Samantha.” I didn’t even know it was a Yoko Ono song, but I thought it would be cool, where it says “POPPERS AND ZUCCHINI $2.99” it would also say “MUSIC BY DEATH OF SAMANTHA.” So we set up, and people were coming in asking “what is this music by Death of Samantha, what is that?” and we thought they were asking about us because they were really into it! They were more like appalled! They fuckin’ HATED IT. People started winging baskets of popcorn around, throwing chicken wings at us, people were yelling “these guys suck, this is awful, this is terrible, we came here to eat!” People were refusing to pay, and the waitresses were screaming at us “Stop! They all want their money back!” Anyways, the place cleared out. It was embarrassing, but our bass player Dave James had a zine “Negative Print,” and he wrote about it. People thought it was a joke, but that fanzine was getting around. So people started calling us about shows. We had this credibility because I got fired for all that, so when we got our first real show there was a ton of people there.
From their beginnings as inciters of suburbanite riots, DoS went on to become a pretty big deal in the ‘80s midwestern rock subterra. The trio added lead guitarist Doug Gillard, and after the requisite handful of locally-pressed singles, they hooked up with Homestead Records—home to heavy hitters like Nick Cave, Big Black and Sonic Youth—for the albums Strungout on Jargon, the particularly brilliant Where the Women Wear the Glory and the Men Wear the Pants, and Come All Ye Faithless, and the essential E.P. Laughing In The Face Of A Dead Man. (All are out of print now, so prepare to dig deep.) The band convincingly and compellingly crossbred post-punk defiance and hardcore sneer with the fearless glam strut of Roxy Music, the exploratory meanderings of Television, and uncommonly literate lyrics. Concerts were a showcase for a preposterous low-budget-Tubes showmanship that emphasized Petkovic’s brutal wit and unstoppable mouth, and Steve-O’s flair for the ridiculous—the chubby, muttonchopped drummer was often ceremoniously borne to the stage in a coffin, from which he would emerge dressed as Vegas Elvis. The band would then launch into 40 some odd minutes of a beautifully shambolic rock that didn’t care what genre it was purloining at any given moment, and mocked you if you DID care. They were fucking magnificent.
Also, they inspired one of my favorite useless Robert Christgau reviews ever—here, in a review of the Wailing Ultimate compilation, he posits an imaginary conversation between John Petkovic and his mom:
As long as you don’t take the hooks too literally—believe me, there aren’t many more where they come from—this is a pretty fair introduction to garage postnihilism, a surprisingly palatable mix of musical and sociological interest. Just like the grooveful laborers on a reggae or hardcore compilation, Gerry’s kids hold together for the kind of continuous listen most local/label samplers can’t sustain. In fact, only their fans and their mothers could tell most of these fourteen bands apart without a scorecard, and I’m not so sure about their mothers. Mrs. Petkovic: “I liked that song you did about the well.” John P.: “How could that be ours, mama? A girl sings it.” Mrs. P.: “Isn’t Samantha a girl?” John P.: “Ma, we’re called Death of Samantha—Death of Samantha.” Mrs. P.: “Oh Johnny, she’s not really dead. That’s just, what do you call it, poetic license, right?” B+
But by the dawn of the ‘90s, just as bands like DoS were starting to get taken more seriously by bigger labels, if not yet radio, the familiar pressures of a lot of work in exchange for going nowhere pulled the band apart. A few years later, Gillard, Petkovic and later member Dave Swanson (now of Chamber Strings) reunited in Cobra Verde, and all three served time in Guided By Voices, though Gillard had the longest and most edifying tenure in that band. Gillard later joined up with Nada Surf, and Petkovic formed Sweet Apple with J. Mascis. But now seems to be the time for bands of that era to reunite, and the bug bit DoS practically at random. Petkovic again:
I had to go buy a pack of cigarettes, and Dave James was working over there—we’d been working like 1,000 feet from each other for ten years and never seen each other—and I saw some guy smoking, I thought I’d try to bum one off of him, and it was Dave. Doug had been in town the week before, and we talked about doing something musically again, and I told Dave the Beachland [concert club] kept bugging us to do a DoS show, and I didn’t think it made any sense, but Dave said “Sure it does, I’d do it.”
And that why-the-hell-not approach has led the band to not just a welcome reactivation, but to the most interesting album of its career. In rehearsing for their comeback show, DoS held their final practice at a recording studio. The engineer suggested running a recording of the practice, and the band said why the hell not. Those recordings are now the 2XLP If Memory Serves Us Well. Its liner notes contain reminiscences from Byron Coley, Screaming Trees’ Mark Lanegan, Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, and GBV’s Bob Pollard, and though it offers no new songs, it reveals their transformation over time in other ways. The band has become looser, and far more free. Two and a half decades spent in touring bands have definitely done wonders for Petkovic and Gillard’s guitar playing (and Doug was a hotshot to begin with), and James and Steve-O as a rhythm section have found a very deep pocket, giving the two guitarists a hell of a lot of room to explore the spaces around one another. There were always some lengthier explorations mixed in with Death of Samantha’s general spikiness, but it feels like they’re engaging more with that sort of thing now, and they’re a ton better at it.
Death of Samantha had an NYC show scheduled in 1990, but their breakup came before it happened. Their next show, fittingly, is at Baby’s All Right in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, on Thursday, May 29. Here are some tastes of what you might expect to see and hear.
The author of this piece would like to thank Boy George for releasing a cover of Yoko Ono’s “Death of Samantha” in time to make web searches for this story kind of irritating to sift through. That being said, his version actually IS kind of awesome.
Photographer Roman Veillon captures rotting and decrepit sites of abandonment. While his overgrown mansions and dilapidated discotheques are certainly mesmerizing, it’s his pictures of Buzludzha Monument, set high in the Balkans of Bulgaria that feel truly otherworldly—simultaneously ghostly and futuristic.
Built in 1981, Buzludzha Monument looks like the ship ruins of an ancient race of alien apparatchiks. The site is totally closed off from the public now (Veillon had to sneak in). Its abandonment is nothing short of a tragedy. Aside from the singular architecture (which took seven years and 6,000 workers to complete), the interior is filled with beautifully ornate mosaic work, much of which was created by the foremost Bulgarian artists of the time.
A lot of water went under the countercultural bridge between 1969, when Douglas Music released the posthumous anthology of Lenny Bruce’s “dirtiest” work What I Was Arrested For: The Performance That Got Lenny Bruce Busted and 1975 when the album was rereleased by Casablanca Records. The sort of material that got Lenny Bruce arrested repeatedly for obscenity in the 1960s seemed almost—I said almost—tame when compared to what George Carlin, Richard Pryor and other comics who came after him were getting away with at the time.
At first the title might be confused with the actual recordings made on the nights when the cops physically pulled Lenny off the stage or arrested him right afterwards, but what one hears on the short album is instead a well-chosen selection of “Dirty Lenny,” the stuff that caused the police departments and district attorneys to pay attention to him in the first place. The album includes his beat poem about hearing his parents fucking “‘To Is a Preposition; Come Is a Verb”; a description of a conversation he had with his agent about performing in a gay nightclub in San Francisco; his lampooning of the “classy” immorality of Las Vegas,“Tits and Ass”; and “A White White Woman Or A Black Black Woman,” Bruce’s wonderfully skillful skewering of racism where he compares the charms of Lena Horne to matronly national anthem singer Kate Smith and asks a theoretical Klansman to choose one of them to marry.
Among the very first words Bruce speaks on the album are “I’m going to piss on you…”
What I Was Arrested For is a really good place to start for a Lenny Bruce neophyte. Today much of his often topical material would be incomprehensible to anyone without a deep knowledge of American history from the Eisenhower through the Johnson administrations, but the recordings to be found here do not fall into that trap and have aged particularly well.
BUT... as controversial as some of this stuff was/is, it’s not the actual recordings of the busted shows themselves (indeed Bruce refers to the busts in the What I Was Arrested For, so that much is obvious).
What a gift to comedy and First Amendment history!
(Bruce attorney) Al Bendich was a good friend of KPFA, and so we often did the recordings [of Bruce’s shows so that they would be documented in case of a bust]. From these we extracted for broadcast a few routines that would not land us in a courtroom along with their author. Twice I was the one who lugged the Ampex over to the Off Broadway. The last time, we all met up in a back alley before the show. It was March, and Lenny was shivering in a long dark overcoat. I vividly remember a face as ravaged as the death mask which, within a couple of years, it would become.
Jack Nessel writes, “I remember talking with him on the steps outside a club one late night between shows. Acting strangely, as if he were imparting a dangerous secret, he gave me a tape he said would prove some kind of conspiracy. I couldn’t wait to play it. Of course it was blank.”
Below, George Carlin tells the story of getting busted himself at Lenny Bruce’s Gate of Horn gig in Chicago, 1962 for getting lippy with a cop:
Although it is generally assumed that it was Charlie Chaplin who first lampooned der Führer in his (still astonishing) 1940 comedy The Great Dictator, it was not Chaplin, but Moe Howard of The Three Stooges who initially parodied Adolf Hitler onscreen in an unflattering way. In fact, Howard was the first Hollywood actor, comedian or otherwise, to play Hitler, predating Chaplin’s film by about nine months.
In “You Natzy Spy,” the 44th of the 190 Three Stooges’ shorts, Moe played “Hailstone,” an idiot wallpaper hanger who is picked by three nefarious arms dealers (with Pig-Latin surnames) to run the country of Moronica as a fascist dictatorship. Curly played “Field Marshal Gallstone” (the Hermann Göring character) and Larry Fine, already limping from an on-set accident, played “Minister of Propaganda Pebble,” a character based on the Third Reich’s club-footed public relations guru Joseph Goebbels.
In retrospect, it seems odd that there weren’t more anti-Nazi films being produced in Hollywood at that time, but the reason for this is simple, if a bit shameful: No Hollywood studio wanted to lose the German box office. There were films that addressed what was happening in Hitler’s Germany throughout the 1930s, but not many. Not many at all. However, the shorts that preceded feature films were paid less attention by the studio bosses and so this one slipped by. By 1939, I think it’s safe to assume that a Hitler spoof was on the way and it was The Three Stooges who got there first.
Many, including Moe and Larry themselves, consider “You Natzy Spy” to be the finest short that The Three Stooges made working for Columbia Pictures from 1934 to 1959. It was followed by a sequel, “I’ll Never Heil Again” in 1941. The parody of the Nazi clobber seen in the film reads “Moronika for Morons” which is an obvious play on “Deutschland den Deutschen” (“Germany for the Germans”). If you listen carefully, especially in Moe’s speech, you’ll hear a lot of Yiddish dog whistles meant for Jewish audiences—all three Stooges were Ashkenazi Jews—and even a punning reference to Göring’s morphine habit!
The Three Stooges were much hipper than they ever get credit for…
You’re good. No one can tell. You’re a social drinker. Sophisticated. Adult.
These hilarious photographs, dated between 1863 and 1868, are believed to be propaganda from a New South Wales temperance group. While some might argue they’re a bit sensational, I’d say that for a certain type of drunk, they’re deadly accurate (Have drunks changed much since the mid 19th century? No, they just have Twitter now). They coincide with the 1866 “Drunkard’s Punishment Bill” of New South Wales, suggesting there was a bit of a local alcoholism problem. The photographer, Charles Percy Pickering, was commissioned by the NSW government. Though he produced a bevy of historic photographs, he went bankrupt multiple times—perhaps it was the drink?!?
This is it—the sweet spot. You’re a little sloppy, but charmingly so. You’re funny, cute and less inhibited, but you still have your wits about you.
Now we’re approaching the point of diminishing returns. You have begun to voice controversial opinions to a disinterested audience. You’re slightly angry at someone for reasons you will later fail to recall. You feel the need for brutal honesty.
“You guys! I find this amaaaaaaaazing wheelbarrow! Let’s take it home! Some one help me take this wheelbarrow home! I neeeeeed it! For… reasons.”
You don’t remember this part at all, but you were mumbling at your girlfriend to “just let me sleep here.” Your friends will later tell you they had to beg a cop not to throw you in the drunk tank, assuring him that they’d see you home safely. They even managed to fit your wheelbarrow in the cab. In the cold light of day you no longer want it, but they went to so much trouble you can’t throw it away. You owe everyone an apology.
The pioneering color photographer Sergey Prokudin-Gorskii was born in Kirzhachsky District, Vladimir Oblast, Russia in 1863. His parents were of Russian nobility with a long military history. The family moved to St. Petersburg, where Prokudin-Gorskii began his studies in chemistry. He was also interested in the arts, and enrolled for studies in painting.
Prokudin-Gorskii’s interest in chemistry and art fused with the study and practice of photography. By 1905, he had formulated a plan to use the emerging technological advances in color photography to document life in Russia. Using different techniques, including those first formulated by Scottish pioneer James Clerk Maxwell, Prokudin-Gorskii started taking color pictures of his homeland in 1909.
Tsar Nicholas II supplied Prokudin-Gorskii with a specially designed rail-road carriage which had been converted into a darkroom. Prokudin-Gorskii’s intention in documenting Russian life was to educate children about their country’s rich history and culture. In 1917, the Russian Revolution put an end to Prokudin-Gorskii’s plans, and the photographer left Russia in 1918, eventually settling in France.
These beautiful color photographs were first recorded on glass plates. In 1948 they were purchased by the Library of Congress, who have since scanned the images, through a process called digichromatography, and made them available to the public.
More beautiful color photos of Imperial Russia, after the jump…